Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Iraq: Seeking freedom and security.

Date: Tuesday 1 February 2005
Subj: Iraq: Seeking freedom and security.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


Roula Khalaf, writing for the Financial Times, correctly points out now that Iraq's "first pluralist elections in 50 years" are over, "the more decisive battle for the future of Iraq is just beginning."

"The primary responsibility of the 275-member national assembly chosen yesterday (30 Jan) - apart from picking the next government - is to draft Iraq's permanent constitution.

"The exercise will have to balance delicately the competing aspirations of Iraq's main ethnic and religious communities and find a compromise between secular and religious forces.

"If successfully achieved it could set Iraq on a more stable course. If badly handled, it could plunge the country into sectarian warfare.

"Among the most contentious issues in the constitutional debate will be the role of Islam in the state and in legislation, and the nature and practice of federalism." (Link 1 – excellent article)

The most immediate serious issue is however, the lack of security faced by religious minorities.

In a 27 December 2004 letter entitled, "To the Muslims in Iraq in Particular and The [Islamic] Nation in General", Osama bin Laden defined the present conflict as "a fateful war between unbelief and Islam, between the army of Muhammad, the army of belief, and the people of the cross..." (MEMRI 30 Dec 2004).

Iraq's "people of the cross" (and this is a religious identity, not an ethnic one), along with other "unbelievers" – Mandaeans, Iraq's remaining Jews, and other religious minorities – need both constitutional and legal guarantees of equality and protection, and the enforcement of those rights on the ground. Failing this, they may need a protected safe-haven.


The Sabian Mandaean Association of Australia (SMAA) reports that attacks against the Mandaean community have intensified since Christmas. (Mandaeans follow the teachings of John the Baptist concerning righteousness and repentance, but reject Jesus as Messiah.) The SMAA notes also that Mandaean leaders are being targeted for assassination. Several Mandaean deacons, significant senior religious leaders, and members of priestly families have been assassinated during early January with the express purpose of shattering the Mandaean community and driving them out of Iraq.

One such assassination reported to the SMAA was that of Mr Riadh Radhi Habib, President of the Mandaean Supreme Spiritual Council, Basra Branch, who was murdered on Sunday evening 16 January 2005.

According the the report received by the SMAA, "Mr Riadh Radhi Habib was walking to his car with his children when he was approached by three Muslims armed with machine guns. The Muslims demanded that Riadh Radhi Habib convert to Islam. Riadh Radhi Habib refused to convert to Islam. The Muslims then fired one shot into Riadh Radhi Habib in front of his children. Riadh Radhi Habib fell to the ground. His children threw themselves on to Riadh Radhi Habib. The Muslims then dragged the children off Riadh Radhi Habib. The Muslims then fired more than ninety (90) shots into Riadh Radhi Habib's body, shooting his body to pieces in front of his children."

The SMAA has provided a long and detailed list of attacks that have been reported them between Christmas and mid-January. These attacks are always accompanied by commands to convert to Islam. Several victims have survived gunshot wounds to the chest. Several others were kidnapped or managed to escape attempted kidnappings only to be forced into hiding. In each of the kidnap cases reported to SMAA, ransom money was not accepted, and in some cases not even requested – the kidnappers demanded conversion to Islam.

The SMAA reports: "On 3 January 2005 Muslims in Baghdad kidnapped the Mandaean ishkander (deacon) Hadi Salem Al-Zohairy. Hadi Salem Al-Zohairy came from a devout Mandaean family; his father also was an ishkander. Initially the Muslims demanded a ransom of US $5,000. However, as the family brought the ransom the family was followed by the police. The motive of the police in following the family is obscure as the family had not contacted the police about the kidnapping. The Muslims then refused to accept any ransom for him but demanded that he and his family convert to Islam. The family [refusing to convert] offered any amount of money for the release of Hadi Salem Al-Zohairy. The Muslims said that they would kill Hadi Salem Al-Zohairy and 's*&# on your money.' The Muslims said that the family would find Hadi Salem Al-Zohairy's dead body thrown in a nearby school. The family went to the school and found Hadi Salem Al-Zohairy still bleeding from five (5) bullet wounds to his head and dying."

Worryingly, the Iraqi police are not always to be relied upon to ensure justice or security for religious minorities. SMAA reports: "On or about 10 January 2005 Muslims approached the Mandaean couple Mr Qusay Nazar Saleh Thamer and his wife Rana in Koorna in Basra and demanded that the Mandaean couple convert to Islam. When the Mandaean couple refused to convert to Islam the Muslims attempted to kill Mr Qusay Nazar Saleh Thamer and his wife Rana. Mr Qusay Nazar Saleh Thamer and his wife Rana then reported the incident to the police. The Muslims then approached the couple again and said that as Mr Qusay Nazar Saleh Thamer and his wife Rana had complained to the police Mr Qusay Nazar Saleh Thamer and his wife Rana must pay money to the Muslims. The police then arrested Mr Qusay Nazar Saleh Thamer for having made a complaint against Muslims."


On 24 January, Lord Carey (the former Archbishop of Canterbury), joined Baroness Cox, former Labour leader Michael Foot and other dignatories, along with members of the Assyrian community in London, to launch the "Save the Assyrians in Iraq" campaign at the House of Lords. (Link 2)

The campaign aims to raise awareness of the plight of Iraq's indigenous Assyrian minority, advocate for the rights of Assyrians to be enshrined in the new Iraqi Constitution, and seek guarantees that Assyrians will have security in their historic homeland, the Nineveh Plains around Mosul in Northern Iraq.

This is a wonderful and profoundly worthwhile cause that we must pray will, through the mercy and blessing of God, yield results. The Assyrians have survived centuries of violence in their homeland at the hands of invading, militant and intolerant Muslims. They have also suffered the shameful betrayals of their Allies who broke faith and left them to be massacred. It is about time Christians in the West stood and raised their voices in solidarity with their Assyrian Christian brothers and sisters.


Lord Carey says that Assyrians are victims of a campaign of ethnic cleansing. However, it is clear from the persecution directed against the Mandaeans that the motive for much of the violent persecution is religious, not ethnic. According to the SMAA, "Muslims are targeting Mandaeans both in the cities and in the villages. In Zubair ten (10) Mandaean families have been forcibly converted to Islam."

On 10 January Arabic CNN reported that relatives found the bodies of Assyrian couple, Joseph Tomeh and his wife, dead in their Baghdad house. They had both been beheaded. An article on the Assyrian International News Agency website quotes Dominican Father Mikhael Najib as telling Vatican Radio from Iraq (18 January), "'...there is a true campaign under way against Christians.' He said religious, priests and lay Christians in Mosul have faced numerous threats that have escalated in number and intensity as the Jan. 30 date for scheduled elections in Iraq neared."

It needs to be acknowledged that a religious cleansing is taking place, because a purely ethnic solution, while it would assist the Assyrian community, would still leave Christian (apostate) Kurds and Arabs, and other religious minorities, without freedom and without protection.


Iraq's newly elected 275-member Transitional National Assembly has law-making powers and will be responsible for drawing up a draft constitution by 15 August.

The most important Iraq campaign for 2005 should be to advocate for the Iraq Constitution to guarantee full religious freedom for all Iraqi citizens, for religious freedom to be protected by law (no unofficial sanctioning of death for apostates), and for all Iraqis to have equality before the law – no discrimination, no dhimmis, no second class citizens whose lives are worth less, and no "kafir" (unclean). And the basic inalienable human rights of individuals (such as right to life, right to freedom of religion) are not to be granted as condescending favours, but as the legitimate rights of all Iraqi citizens.

Also religious freedom must be defined as: "Everyone [as individuals] has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance." (article 18, Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

In other words, the provision that no legislation can be enacted if it is contrary to the "universally agreed upon tenets of Islam," must be removed from the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL, interim constitution). This phrase abrogates all that is progressive in the TAL. It certainly abrogates the TAL's offer of religious freedom.

If the "tenets of Islam" are given ultimate authority then more than 22 million Muslims will have absolutely no religious freedom (sharia is the antitheses of religious liberty, mandating death for apostates – those who renounce Islam), society will be plagued with inequality, and women and non-Muslims will face discrimination and persecution. Any commitment to enacting equality (which is contrary to Qur'anic Islam) would however, need to be matched by a commitment to guarantee security. Because, as the history of the 20th Century demonstrates, intolerant and militant Muslims who simply cannot cope with the undoing of the Islamic order, may prefer to slaughter non-Muslim citizens than live with them as equals.

Religious freedom and security for religious minorities (includes converts) must become realities before anyone boasts "freedom". To boast "freedom" is ridiculous when the expression of religious freedom would prove fatal.


When non-Muslim nations endorse sharia in Muslim nations, they are not acting with tolerance – they are legitimising, and being complicit with, intolerance. Sharia's threat of death to apostates is Islam's bodyguard, its "Berlin Wall" – designed not to keep people out, but to keep them in. One must question why Islam should require such oppressive protective measures.

Elizabeth Kendal


1) The real battle for Iraq comes next: drafting a permanent constitution
By Roula Khalaf, Financial Times, 31 January 2005

2) Carey: Save Iraq Assyrians from Ethnic Cleansing
By John-Paul Ford Rojas, PA 24 Jan 2004